God is not an American Capitalist
The Bible does not spell out a specific economic system, at least it is not expressed in those terms. God has given a broad plan for mankind, which covers all aspects of life. He gave six hundred and thirteen laws in the Old Testament. These set out principles to govern all of life. Within these are laws which govern money, taxes, production of good, laws regarding property, personal liability, and methods to assist the poor. God does not have a system for economics and a septate system for worship and another one for government. There is only one system, and it is all encompassing.
It is somewhat like studying the human body. We can look at and study the Skeletal System, the Digestive System, the Lymphatic System, the Circulatory System, and others, but these are somewhat arbitrary divisions, because none of these systems can function in isolation. They are all dependent upon one another. The same is true of God’s Economic System. The system starts with an overall command to “Love God and keep his commandments”. Sometimes it is phrased as, “Fear God and keep his commandments”. The point is that God is in the center of everything. To try to apply the principles of God’s economic system apart from God, is just foolishness. To build an economic system without the other supporting moral and social principles is equally foolish.
That being said, we will be looking at the main principles of God’s system as they apply to economics. Never lose sight of the fact that the other aspects of God’s system must also be applied for the economic portion to function properly.
As we explore God’s system, I ask that you carefully compare our current American system to God’s system. As you do, you will discover that our system has diverged significantly from God’s plan. It will take some personal and emotional restraint on your part to remain open minded. Money is a very personal thing, and every aspect of our lives are deeply intertwined with our money, how we earn it and how we use it. The tendency will be to put up your guard, defend the American system and your part in it. Try to remain open minded and take in all that God wants to teach you.
God’s system is so different from our system that it is nearly impossible to imagine following God’s system. It is even more difficult to imagen a way to transform our system to be in line with God’s system. I know. I have racked my brain to try to figure out a way. So far, I have not found one. I have changed my focus to try to identify key principles. Then find ways to incrementally change our system, step by step to align with God’s system. It will be a long, and in some ways a painful process. It requires an enormous amount of faith and trust in God. We have been conditioned to place our faith and security in our money. To place our security in God is a huge step of faith for us Americans.
Knowing that the journey is long, means that we need to start walking now. But first we need to understand where we are headed. That is what we are working on here.
This discussion will focus on three key areas: Part One will focus on Money and loans, Part Two on personal Property, and Part Three on welfare/security systems. These are interrelated so there will be some duplication and crossover as each one is discussed.
The economic system used in America is called Capitalism. More accurately it should be called corporate capitalism. Capitalism places money at the center. The acquisition of money is the central thrust. We measure the health of our economy based on the movement of money. If money is flowing freely, if there are a lot of transactions taking place then the economic indicators say that the economy is healthy.
In the American system it is said that there are two ways of making money. There are people making money (labor) and money making money (capital). Please note three things. The overall focus is on making money. Wealth is measured based on the accumulation of money. Secondly note that making money through labor has limits. We all are limited to twenty-four hours in a day. We have physical limitations to the labor we can do. Even people who make a living through intellectual activities and management of others have limitations. Managed correctly a person can make a tremendous amount of money through personal effort, but there are still limits.
Capital is a different story. There is no limit to how much money can be accumulated. That capital can be continuously invested to generate more money. The power of capital is dominate in the American economic system. That is why it is called Capitalism rather than Laborism.
In God’s system money, or capital, is rather insignificant. God’s system is primarily a labor-based system. The economy is based on the production of goods and services rather than capital. To accomplish this God established some foundational laws which made a capitalistic system in Israel difficult if not impossible.
Simply put, God prohibited loaning money for profit to fellow Israelites. Banking as we know it was impossible. It is hard for us to imagine such as system because banking, borrowing, and investing is such a part of our lives.
There are some underlying principles here. Profiting by loaning money at interest was considered taking advantage of others. It equates to placing them into forced labor. “The borrower is servant to the lender”. The nation of Israel was created from a nation of slaves in Egypt. God’s desire was to create a nation of people who are free from bondage of any type. Note that the Israelites were permitted to loan money to foreigners at interest. Profiting from foreign nations and bringing their wealth into Israel was allowed. To lend to other nations is considered a blessing of God, and to borrow from other nations is considered his curse. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (Blessings), Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (Cursings).
Note that historically Jews have taken this to heart. Throughout the world, Jews have participated in banking on a corporate level and as individuals. Many have accumulated tremendous amounts of wealth. It has been a contributing factor to much of the resentment and persecution of the Jews throughout history.
God’s law against lending for interest does not preclude all loaning of money. In fact, God commands his people to lend money freely to those in need and to not charge interest. At the end of each seven year cycle all debts are forgiven. If you loaned money to the needy there was no guarantee that you would get your money back. That was not the point. The point was that every individual was to consider it his responsibility to help his neighbor get them through the hard times and get them re-established. God inferred that he would repay the debt through his blessings. This economic system would help the community as a whole and everyone benefits.
When we compare God’s economic system to ours, the contrast is staggering. In the area of borrowing and lending America’s system is the exact opposite of God’s system. In America borrowing is considered a basic part of life. We even consider having a good credit rating as a measure of personal economic prosperity. We borrow for nearly everything. It is nearly impossible to buy a house without a thirty-year mortgage. We borrow for cars. Day to day purchases are made with credit cards. The average American adult has about $8,000 in credit card debt.
Americans view borrowing as a way to get ahead. If you want to start a business, you are told to write a business plan, borrow start-up capital, and get an accountant. If you are renting a house or apartment, you are told you should borrow money and buy a house because it is a good investment.
As you progress in your career, you are told that you should save and invest your money. The goal is to reach a point in life when you can retire. Instead of working, your money is working for you. You have transitioned from being a borrower to being a lender.
Note who borrows in America. We tend to all borrow, but to borrow you must have good credit. If you demonstrate that you can and will pay back the money, then banks will loan you money. If you are poor and cannot demonstrate the ability to pay it back, then you will probably not get the loan. If you do get a loan, it will have a higher interest rate. This is the exact opposite of God’s system. In God’s system loans are to help the poor, the unstable. In the American system the loaner profits at the expense of the average reliable worker. In God’s system the poor are cared for to stabilize them and reestablish them. Individuals do not profit from lending, but everyone profits from their labor and from caring for each other.
American’s pride themselves on their capitalist economic system. We claim to have the strongest economy in the world. This view is based largely on our high standard of living. It is based on economic measures of our own design. When we use those measures, we are a massive success. When we apply God’s measures it is a much different story. God’s word says that the borrower is servant to the lender. It says that if we are experiencing God’s blessing we will lend to other nations and not borrow. He says that if we are under his curse, we will borrow and not lend. According to God’s measure we have become a nation of slaves. We have lost our freedom. Others control us. We are under God’s curse because we have failed to fear God and keep his commandments.